FORT YATES, N.D. - More than 300 participants, the most ever, attended the
sixth annual Great Plains Regional/Tribal Economic Development Summit held
recently. The goal of the summit was to create a network for tribes,
businesses and organizations to partner in efforts that will create growth
of entrepreneurial and tribally-owned business ventures. Numerous topics
relevant to tribal economic development were discussed by the attendees
including alternative energy sources, agriculture and transportation.
ALTERNATIVE ENERGY SOURCES
Imagine 20 American Indian reservations supplying enough energy to provide
20 major cities with electricity that is clean, efficient and renewable.
The wind may be the Great Plains tribe's most important energy source. In
fact North and South Dakota have been referred to as the Saudi Arabia of
And then imagine tribes using geothermal, biomass, solar and hydro power to
add to that energy supply.
Tribes can acquire economic gain from the renewable energy sources, and the
environment will be clean and an added benefit will be to homeland
Roger Taylor, manager of tribal energy programs for the National Renewable
Energy Laboratory, said decentralization of energy-producing locations
would survive most terrorist attacks. Japan, at the time of the atomic bomb
dropping was not severely effected by black outs because their electrical
system was decentralized.
The Missouri River, with seven hydropower, flood control dams uses water to
generate power for the western region and some military bases, and
management of the river is a major battle ground for states up and down the
"Now we have something the corps of engineers can use to help manage the
Missouri river; wind power," said Pat Spears, president of the Intertribal
Council on Utility Policy.
There are 15 states on the power grid and wind power generated by the
reservations alone can relieve the demand from the hydro dams and allow for
a more natural flow of water for recreation, navigation and the
"We are not looking for wall to wall turbines. They don't take a lot of
land out of production, you can still graze cattle and buffalo and yet
provide 35 to 40 percent of the capacity needed," Spears said.
Financing becomes a problem, as was discovered by the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.
Green Tags, sold to companies in the northeastern United States, help those
companies with their environmental record and reduce pollution and
environmental problems while financing construction of the turbines.
Congress has also appropriated some funding, Spears said.
"The Northeast gets our wind, they can invest in our clean air," said
Robert Gough, secretary of the Intertribal Council on Utility Policy.
"We are in a water crisis with drought. The Missouri River runs low and
that affect the hydropower, but we can add wind power to the grid. And, we
dig coal in Wyoming to move to Minnesota - that's 19th century technology.
The government should buy wind power," Gough said.
The Rosebud Sioux Tribe connected its lone wind turbine to the grid managed
by Basin Electric, the largest producer of carbon dioxide in the nation,
Gough said. If half of the power needed in the northeast came from wind it
could mean a $3 billion industry for Great Plains tribes.
"We need to partner with cities across the country and partner with the
tribes. The cities can tell WAPA (Western Area Power Authority) to sell us
wind power and declare an energy independence day," Gough said.
GREAT PLAINS AND AGRICULTURE
One of the toughest businesses to sustain is a ranching and farming
operation. In the midst of a five-year drought many Great Plains ranchers
are reducing their herds or liquidating altogether. Some will replace in
the future, others will find other ways to support their families.
To talk of a billion dollar industry in the wake of hard times can be
difficult, but also very positive. What the many ranchers and tribes with
huge land bases heard was that natural beef production is very profitable
and is the fastest growing market in the country.
"Natural food is the fastest growing market in the country and has grown by
35 percent per year," said Neil Odom of BC Natural Foods, LLC.
"There are great opportunities out there with 68 million shoppers looking
for natural foods," Odom said. A national survey revealed that 40 percent
of people said they would incorporate organic and natural foods into their
diets in 2004.
That means a value-added income for the livestock and food producer.
Casey Fredericks, a rancher on the Fort Berthold Reservation in North
Dakota, said he changed his herd to all natural. That means no growth
hormones or antibiotics and allowing cattle to graze naturally. "It adds
value to the product. It is a tough business and even tougher on the
reservations because of jurisdiction issues. This is a great concept," he
Ranching has not been explored to its fullest on reservations that have
large land bases. Most have land use boards and livestock boards with
individual ranchers, but tribes and the federal government have not worked
hand in hand to develop this industry to its fullest.
The Lower Brule Sioux Tribe plans to increase its economic base with a
complete calf-to-market operation. There are plans to build a processing
plant on the reservation where tribal ranchers can sell cattle and buffalo
at better prices and keep the profits within the community.
The Oglala Sioux Tribal Empowerment Zone entered into a partnership with an
eastern company to provide cattle to a processing plant in Gordon, Neb. The
plant will butcher kosher beef for distribution across the country. Kosher
butchering requires special handling and butchering techniques.
Tally Plume, executive director of the Empowerment Zone, said they will
produce the beef under their own label.
What the producers want is 100,000 head of cattle a year which is difficult
for a reservation that has only an estimated 93,000 head owned by American
Indian and non-Indian ranchers. The tribe will then go to other areas to
purchase the cattle for the Gordon production plant.
In addition to just supplying the cattle, which in itself is a boon to the
reservation economy, a feed lot will be built on the reservation. That will
create more employment opportunities in an industry that is natural for the
grasslands of the Great Plains tribes.
BC Natural Foods also wants to partner with ranchers to provide the natural
product. That means more cattle going to market from the tribal ranchers,
and more profit for the reservations.
There are 31 reservations in the western states with 3,500 families in the
ranching business with a total of 273,000 head of cattle. Those cattle
graze on 27 million acres of land. If they all partner with the Oglala
Lakota beef project or BC Natural Foods that will mean added value to the
cattle with higher profits for the rancher.
The natural production process increases profits from 10 to 20 percent,
said Wes Martel, executive director of the Inter-Tribal Economic Alliance.
"This process will increase the value of the herds and the value of the
land," Martel said.
Farming and ranching can be a risky business. It's the love of it that
keeps people involved. Fredericks said he was advised by his father that if
you are going into ranching you've got to like it because there is not a
lot of money involved.
Great Plains farmers are having an especially poor year after several years
of drought. In the central region of South Dakota, specifically, Bennett,
Jackson, Todd and Shannon counties - where the Pine Ridge and Rosebud
reservations are located, the winter wheat crop did not survive the spring.
Even so, the largest industry in the Great Plains is farming and ranching
and tribes and individuals are now working on ways to increase the value
and profits to provide economic opportunities for the reservations. A
missing link in the formula is reservation based banking institutions. They
would improve the method of keeping money on the reservations so the dollar
turnover would establish an economic base, summit attendees said.